How To Build A Club Volleyball Pipeline To College
July 27, 2018
From humble beginnings 20 years ago, Nebraska Elite has grown from a single club team to 34, plus a robust offering of camps, specialized training, and youth programming. Additionally, Nebraska Elite has built an impressive collegiate pipeline. As of today, their high school participants, freshmen through seniors, have either committed to or signed with 18 Division 1, 5 Division 2, one JC, and 10 NAIA programs.
To learn more about how they’ve consistently produced top-flight college-ready players, we sat down with Tony Carrow, the club director of Nebraska Elite.
What was your biggest hurdle as you attempted to grow your business in the early years?
Facilities, that was the number one issue. To be honest, once we had that squared away, everything else wasn’t really that difficult. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to do a lot of marketing. The success of the local college programs presented an opportunity for our players. If they succeeded here, they could go on and play in college, that was the message. So to be honest, we really haven’t done much in marketing. We’ve run a couple ads in the newspaper for summer camps but there was no return on our investment. Our growth has been fairly steady, and once again I’d say that’s tied largely to the fact that we had success as an organization and then the high level of success of the college programs in the area. You have to understand, at one point in time, about two years ago, Iowa Western, which is across the river from us, was the No. 1 Junior College program in the country. Midland University was the No. 1 NAIA program. Nebraska Kearney was No. 1 D2 team. And that all happened in the course of one season.
We are in the process of building a new facility. We’ve outgrown the place where we’re at and I think the facility is going to help us continue to grow not only as an organization in size, but also grow the product that we’re putting out there. We designed the new location with the parents in mind. It’s probably bigger, square footage wise, than we really need but we wanted to make sure we had everything covered. We think that the overall experience is going to be incredibly beneficial to our players. We’re going to have a physical therapy group in the building that will offer services, including massages and private therapy. We’re going to have private and group tutoring, including SAT/ACT prep classes they can take at our facility. We’re really trying to make it a one-stop shop. At 7,000 square feet, the training facility will be not only for our athletes but it will also be open to parents so they can come in and work out. They’ll have high-intensity training classes that the parents can participate in too, that’s the next thing on the horizon as far as where we’re going and we think that will make everything better for us.
Nebraska Elite produces an incredible number of collegiate players. How much of that success do you attribute to them participating in your programs from any early age?
Of our girls that go on to play at the college level, about 55% of them started with us at the youth level. Those girls are getting the fundamentals and training down. At a young age they have a natural excitement for the game at that point, so we try to maintain that through their time here with Nebraska Elite. We believe that 55% is a high retention rate – meaning girls stay with us for 9 or 10 years before going onto college. That creates consistency in the player and the program.
Despite the national growth of volleyball, there are still hurdles for the sport, namely burnout among the players. Do you encourage the girls to play multiple sports or take time off during the year to refresh?
We hear from the college coaches “we want multi-sport athletes.” But the reality is, in the 20 years that I’ve done this, I’ve never had a college coach ask me if the player was a multi-sport athlete. From my perspective, we don’t discourage the players from playing other sports because we know there are benefits not only from the repetitive motion the other sports utilize, but also from the use of the other muscles they engage. I also think it’s important to take some time off.
Our most recent team had a national run. The 16-and-under team had players that included a state champion high jumper, and four girls that qualified for state soccer, three of which won state soccer titles. One of them actually went on to be a college soccer player. We had a number of girls also play tennis on the team. Last year’s group had the state champion high jumper again, state champions in soccer, qualifiers in tennis, and one of which ended as a state champion. So we know that playing multiple sports helps develop the athlete and the athlete’s mind.
From a technology perspective, what have you embraced in recent years to help your program and your players?
The only outside resource we really utilize that’s helped us on the recruiting side of things has been SportsRecruits. In the past, recruitment was so time-consuming, everything related to it for both our players and the coaches. The platform saves me and my coaches a lot of time dealing with the entire sports recruiting process because now everything is done electronically. The player simply sits down and makes a list of the schools she is interested in and then as they prepare their emails to send out before events they can go in and tag the school and send their email. All the email addresses are in there for the coaching staff. Then they can build their own profile there so when their email goes out it is directly linked to their profile and college coaches can click on that.
From the management standpoint, behind the scenes, every time a coach visits a player’s page or watches a video we get notified, and the parent can get notified and that’s when things get really exciting. We follow up with the coaches and the player to make sure we keep that process moving along and that’s been the one thing that’s helped out tremendously; having that tool for our athletes.